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Rays Spring Training 2020: Kevin Padlo, the Rays prospect you need to know

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Padlo is the prospect who could most shake up the Rays plans for 2020 with a strong Spring showing

@ChrisAdamsWall

It wasn’t a popular trade at the time and still isn’t looked upon with much fondness. In January of 2016, the Tampa Bay Rays dealt away one of the best relievers in franchise history, Jake McGee, to the Colorado Rockies alongside a strong starting prospect RHP German Marquez for slugging outfielder Corey Dickerson and young infielder Kevin Padlo.

German Marquez would soar through the Rockies system and make his MLB debut later that season 2016, leaving Padlo the only player in the four-piece deal yet to reach the majors.

Padlo was just 19 years old at the time, and enjoyed a stellar first season with Tampa Bay in 2016, as he registered a 130 wRC+ over 115 games at Single-A. Unfortunately, early on in the 2017 season, Padlo suffered a broken hamate, an injury that significantly affected his performance at the plate over a prolonged period of time. Padlo only played in 69 games that season, and his power was suppressed — either by the injury, or by playing in the unfriendly confines of the Florida State League.

The following season was another that Padlo would have liked to performed better, as injuries once again plagued him, and his power numbers dwindled further. Nonetheless, one of the things that stayed constant about Padlo was his ability to get on base. His 13.5 percent walk rate was among the highest in all of the Florida State League, and he still provided stellar defense at the hot corner.

Entering the 2019 season, Padlo was still just 22 years old old but had yet to play above High-A due to the aforementioned injuries; however, a strong spring saw him finally promoted to the next level, where breaking balls lie in wait to fell the best hitters of A-ball.

Padlo struggled mightily out of the gate and was hitting just .171 after his first 23 games in Double-A, but eventually he settled in. The 6’ 2” righty began a prolonged hot streak in which he hit .292/.429/.576 with nine home runs over 47 games. This exceptional output warranted a promotion to Triple-A for the now 23-year-old Padlo.

Padlo flourished with the promotion to Triple-A and put up nearly identical numbers to his hot streak in Double-A as he closed out the season. Over 40 games with the Durham Bulls, Padlo hit .290/.400/.595 with nine more home runs. With his stellar play, Padlo entered the conversation as a possible promotion when rosters expanded in September, but his season came to an end with the Bulls loss in the International League championship.

In November, the Rays added Kevin Padlo to the 40-man roster, which puts him squarely on the cusp of finally reaching the majors after an injury-riddled minor league career.

MLB: Spring Training-Philadelphia Phillies at Tampa Bay Rays Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Following the 2019 season, Erik Neander spoke on Padlo with Marc Topkin and mentioned some of the things that led to Padlo’s restored prospect status.

“I think health played into it to some degree. He battled some things off and on over time here that may have limited him . . . and I think he went into (last) winter and put himself into a position where he came in in significantly better shape. Not that he was ever out of shape, but he just really poured it on (last) winter in terms of his prep. He came in healthy, and with a mentality that was in a good place.’’

”I think it’s just a matter of a young player going through the experiences to strengthen themselves,” the GM said, “and appreciate what they needed to do to succeed and really taking ownership of his career and being rewarded for it.’’

Baseball America has called Padlo’s exit velocity “excellent,” making him a potential hitFX darling. Padlo regularly hits the ball with authority, and he excels at getting on base; all the while providing stellar defense. Didd we mention the Rays do not have a set third baseman?

As of right now, Padlo doesn’t have a clear spot on the Major League roster with the Rays already having a logjam of MLB players who will need to plug in at the infield corners (and DH); however, Padlo will likely get a decent look during spring training, which a chance to claim something more.